Archive for October, 2009


Saturday, October 31st, 2009

As one who worked at the national level for fifteen years representing the Church in the “public policy” arena, I have become somewhat astute as to when to call out the cavalry. My parents early on taught me that you cannot and should not yell “wolf” or “fire” too often or you lose all credibility. Last January when there were cries for postcards to Congress on the “Freedom of Choice” Act, I and most of our pastors did not call out the troops for a number of reasons, primary among which was that there was as yet and still is not as far as I know any serious proposed “Freedom of Choice Act” under consideration by this Congress. Generally one waits for the right moment before calling up the troops.

Well the time is now to stop the inclusion of federal monies for abortion services, procedures, etc., read that yours and my tax dollars, in any Health Care legislation under consideration. Unfortunately all the present proposals for health care reform contain expansion of abortion services and coverage and therein lies the deal breaker for we who value the protection and right to life of the unborn. Now I wish to be clear at what the Church is seeking – maintain the status quo which does as the President promised in his address to Congress – no federal funds will be included in any bill he signs into law which earmarks  money for abortion and the freedom of conscience of health care workers must be maintained according to the present proscription. Some voices are beginning to suggest that the proposed legislation should be used to further roll back the rulings of the U.S.  Supreme Court and I can guarantee you that will not happen in this Congress and with this President. We will have to be satisfied in my judgment with holding the status quo – imperfect legislation perhaps but care of the poor and uninsured is also a basic human right and we need to demonstrate that we as a Church are also interested in the quality of life after birth (remember the Gospel description of final judgment day).

So now is the time friends for a “call to arms.” The bishops have asked every parish in the country to include information in next Sunday’s bulletins and I have asked all of our priests to find the best way next week-end to solicit your assistance in giving life to a ground-swell in support of NO on abortion coverage and YES to some form of health care reform. On the latter, a reasonable Catholic who embraces the concept of universal health care can take exception to certain provisions of any proposed legislation, but on the former, no weaseling please – WE ARE PRO-LIFE!

You can access the materials which you should be seeing in your parishes here:

Thanks for standing tall on what may be one of the most important legislative moments in our lifetime.



Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

If you read or stay current with “Church news” you have probably already read that Congressman Patrick Kennedy representing 66% Catholic Rhode Island in the U.S. House of Representatives in an interview accused the nation’s Catholic bishops of fanning the flames of opposition to universal health care reform by insisting that federal monies in the plan to pay for abortion are a “deal killer” in which the bishops whom the Congressman calls allegedly pro-life would be willing to see the nation’s uninsured remain that way. How can we claim to be pro-life and oppose health care reform even if it contains new taxpayer monies for “abortion on request”, the Congressman asks. Easy, Mr. Kennedy,  just listen to your own bishop and accept his invitation to meet and discuss the grave moral dimensions of this consequence. Bishop Tobin, the bishop of Providence, in his response to you has succinctly laid out the Church’s (not just the bishops’) opposition to such an inclusion, and I stand ready to campaign heavily against the legislation if it includes money for abortion and to support it equally strongly if it does not and truly makes access to health care a possibility for all Americans.

I have written letters to our Congressional Delegation from this diocese, namely Congress persons Castor, Brown-Waite, Young, Putnam, Bilirakis. (As a sample, here is the letter to Congress person Castor.) May I invite you to do the same for Senators Nelson and LeMieux and your Congressman. Maybe it will help one or the other to understand why this means so much. By the way every Florida bishop is writing to their delegation and the Archbishop in our name to Senator LeMieux and Bishop Wenski to Senator Nelson.


Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Many of our local Churches are observing today as “Environmental Awareness Day”  and that has led me to reflect on several things. We have a long theological tradition of understanding that we are nothing more than “stewards” of God’s creation and it is our responsibility to care for creation, all of it, and hopefully pass it on to the next generation at least as lovely as we received and enjoyed it. St. Francis of Assisi with his love for and protection of all created things might have been the first Christian environmentalist. Topic like global warming and greenhouse gases usually pass right over my head but I personally have begun to listen more attentively and carefully to the growing danger to planet earth as we know it. As many of my local readers may have read this week, a group of environmental scientists were in the area this week and they warned that by the turn of the century, seven additional feet of sea water at low tide resulting from the effects of global warning will find much of downtown Tampa and bayshore underwater and all of St. Petersburg beach and the communities along the Gulf west of the intracoastal waterway. I will confess that I used to scoff at such predictions, now I take them seriously.

So what is the Church doing as regards environmental awareness and protection. Bethany Center was built and furnished with a new, special concern for “green.” Lights in the rooms are energy efficient, air conditioning units are such that when the buildings are unoccupied they remain mildew and mold free but are easier on electrical demands. The Chapel is an example of using outside ambient light to illuminate the interior rather than power consuming lights which are present but not needed most of the time.

I have asked that new Churches, and especially parish centers and other new buildings, at the time of go-ahead for construction, respond to modern thinking on environmental concerns.

That’s what we are attempting to do to become sensitive to this growing real and present danger. What are you doing?



Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

As they often say on Sunday afternoon between 350pm and 415pm, but slightly paraphrased from the NFL games, “We would like to welcome those people who have been watching the Church in the US and the world through Whispers in the Loggia to our humble little commentary on a great local Church, the Diocese of St. Petersburg.” If this is the first time you have taken a peep at this blog, maybe a small introduction would help. For the first nine or ten years I was here as bishop, I communicated on a regular basis with the people of the diocese in two ways: with a daily radio program of five minutes of something less than pearls of great wisdom entitled “On the Air with Bishop Lynch” on our powerful and gifted 100,000 watt SPIRIT FM. Then I also wrote a fairly regular column for the diocesan edition of the FLORIDA CATHOLIC entitled “Out of the Ordinary.” The paper is no longer a part of our diocesan communications opportunities. After ten years of deadlines for submission to the paper and recording sessions, I was fairly worn out and found myself writing and talking about what I and others considered minutiae of Catholic Church life.

The electronic media began to catch my attention and this blog, soon to celebrate its first anniversary, is the result. I write only when I have something to share or teach. The average time it takes me to prepare a 500 word blog entry is between 20 and 30 minutes (sometimes they read like “haste makes waste”) and there is only the moment when the muse suggests I write, not a deadline. Do I reach as many people as the former column and radio show – not even close, but “hits” on this blog were rising until my five week confinement in late July and August. Now in recuperation, I am beginning to get my energy back and have time, lots of time every day, to share reflections on our lives as Catholics.

I read your comments personally but do  not answer them because in some instances I wish to avoid useless polemics and in other instances some are very personal to the person who comments. Many have offered me new perspectives in challenging pastoral problems.

Now some news. Bishop-elect Etienne has asked me to deliver the homily at his episcopal ordination on December 9th in Cheyenne. I am grateful to Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap, of Denver who as the principal consecrator  has allowed me this privilege. Most of my diocesan family remember that in the year of his death, 1996, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin preached at my episcopal ordination. I am not much more agile at this moment than the Cardinal was that January 26th but it will be a labor of love.

I promised myself and my doctors that I would not make trips outside of the diocese until after my ileostomy is reversed soon after the first of the year, but I will make an exception in this instance. I will be unable to attend the November Bishops’ meeting in Baltimore but should be back to full form to welcome the USCCB to St. Petersburg in June for their special assembly.

Finally, John Barry of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES does a second wonderful job in four days in today’s paper’s coverage of the Holy See’s announcement about the offer to the Anglican Communion. I could take no exception to his conclusions. I will return to this topic myself in a few days when by mind is better capable of dealing with what was for myself a total surprise.



Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

The late Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston was fond of saying about the Church he served, “we may be difficult but we are never boring.” That was my first thought yesterday with the news from Rome that Pope Benedict XVI would soon issue an Apostolic Constitution allowing Anglicans who are seeking unity with Rome to come over while retaining some of their traditional liturgy, prayers and practice. To accomplish this, some personal prelatures would be established around the world where governance would be by a person selected by the Pope from among the former Anglican clergy now ordained and serving in the Roman Church. So, the bottom line is that there may well be a new “rite” within the Catholic Church for these people who seek this form of union, similar to the Pope’s decision to allow the celebration of the former or Tridentine Mass several years ago. In return for this concession, the Anglicans would have to accept the authority  of the Pope as universal pastor and abide by the same rules and norms as you and I do.

In announcing this concession for the sake of unity, the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the U.S.’s Cardinal William Levada and the new secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, the U.S.’s Augustine Di Noia, OP made it very clear that our Church has no intention of going “fishing” in the Anglican communion for converts but rather were simply providing an option to those who had decided to separate themselves already. In London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams was characteristically kind in response, but it had to be painful for him and for others of our Anglican/Episcopalian friends. The issues driving those who might take advantage of this new concession by the Pope are the ordination of women priests and bishops, of gay and lesbian priests who are openly so, etc.

I could be wrong but my sense is that not an awful lot of our brothers and sisters will take advantage  of this attempt at outreach. Here in this diocese I would be surprised if any Episcopal community would come over as there are many things about our governance structure that they do not like. We should also humbly acknowledge that there are a good number of disaffected Catholics who have become Episcopalians and are quite comfortable in their new home. Also, I can assure you that the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida has far more former Catholic priests serving as clergy than either our own or the Venice dioceses have. I have always been grateful that neither of our Churches “crow” about this reality and I assure my Episcopalian friends that it is not my intention to proselytize among their number. However, should a community wish to “come over to Rome”, it appears that it will be outside my competence and will be the business of the new prelates chosen for this purpose.

If you are interested in learning more about this announcement, today’s NEW YORK TIMES covers the story well as does the mother of all Catholics blogs, WHISPERS IN THE LOGGIA.



Monday, October 19th, 2009

Regular readers of this blog know that last week I took special delight in the naming of my associate pastor at St, Mark’s parish in Dania,  Father Fernando Isern, as bishop of the Colorado diocese of Pueblo. While celibates do not give birth to progeny, I hope we can be forgiven for the joy and satisfaction which is ours when someone with whom we have worked or know well is also entrusted with shepherding or assisting in shepherding a local Church. Today someone even closer to me over the years was chosen by Pope Benedict XVI as the next bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming, a huge territory with about 50,000 Catholics in the state.

Bishop-Elect Paul Etienne

Bishop-Elect Paul Etienne

Father Paul Etienne first came into my life as a graduate of the College of St. Thomas in 1985. He had been a college seminarian at St. John Vianney College seminary on the campus of St. Thomas and had decided to take some time off to reflect on the commitment to celibacy. The Rector then, now Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, called our office at the Bishop’s Conference and said he had a young man who was making a mistake, that he had a vocation to priesthood but needed time. Knowing that we were looking for temporary help for the upcoming 1986 papal visit, the General Secretary at that time and my boss, Monsignor Daniel Hoye and I interviewed Paul and were impressed with his very successful background as a young business man after high school graduation and his academic achievements. Even though he came to Washington wearing “cowboy boots” we hired him and I got to know my co-worker well. He did an outstanding job for the papal visit but hated Washington and its big-city, urban environment. He was from Tell City, a small but very Catholic town along the Ohio River where the public school had been run by the parish and nuns. He was from a close-knit family of six children, faith-filled, loving parents, a small town. When the trip was over, he could not wait to return to Tell City, search for a job, and see how a relationship with a young woman he had met developed. That was November.

In December his older brother Bernie announced that he was entering the seminary and studying for the Evansville diocese where he was living. In the first week of January, Paul called me and said that he felt called again to the priesthood and would be approaching the Archbishop of Indianapolis about entering the seminary. At first I was incredulous, skeptical and challenging, wondering if this was not a reaction to Bernie’s decision. His younger sister had already begun the process of entering the Beech Grove Benedictine community. To make a long story short, Paul entered the North American College that Fall and four years later was ordained the first of the Etienne brothers. I vested him at his diaconate and preached his first Mass in Tell City.

A year later, brother Bernie was ordained, and about ten years after that brother Zach (Zachary) was also ordained for the Evansville diocese. Bishop-Elect Paul has had a good priesthood and has been a much loved and admired pastor of now four parishes, although the last two prior to returning in the summer as pastor of his home parish in Tell City lasted only one year each due to his co-responsibilities as Vice-Rector of Indianapolis’ college seminary program. Sister Nicolette has just finished a term as her community’s Vocation Director and now has returned to her first love, teaching. Brother Richard and sister Angela are the two “normal” siblings who have chosen marriage and each have children. It is going to be hard for this family to say good-bye to Paul who is going quite far away.

One final note. The three priest brothers are avid hunters. For ordination gifts, they gave each other hunting rifles. Come deer season, the boys can be found on their wooded farm behind some blind waiting for a vulnerable deer. I know; I have inadvertently placed a phone call to them only to be greeted by the sound of a rifle going off and told to hang up. I have already cautioned the bishop-elect that if he chooses to go hunting in season in Yellowstone (almost entirely in his diocese) or in the Tetons, he would do well to find out where former Vice-President Cheney (who lives outside of Jackson Hole) will be hunting that day!

Cheyenne’s lucky. They are getting a pastor, not a Church bureaucrat, and someone who will love and lead them.



Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Today’s ST. PETERSBURG TIMES has a long article on religious women working in this diocese which I found mostly  endearing. I think the religious women (and men for that matter, though they are not included in the article) know how much I and our priests and deacons and people appreciate their wonderful presence in this diocese. They are gift to us and to this Church. An example of our love for them is nowhere as clearly demonstrated than in the generosity of our people to their annual collection for the “retired religious.” It is the largest collection in this diocese and brings in more money than than any other annual collection including Peter’s Pence, Mission Sunday or the Catholic Relief Services collections.

Their presence in our midst is as I said a “gift” to all of us. Aging, ailing and worn out after a lifetime of service, they do not know the meaning of the word “retirement” and continue to assist in many forms of ministry within the diocese, even if it is on a limited time basis. For most religious, the words “sister, it is time for you to come back to the motherhouse or the nursing home” is akin to capital punishment. Schools in the diocese where they are still present are truly blessed and all one needs to do is ask the parents and students. Having just spent five weeks in St. Anthony Hospital in St. Petersburg I can assure you that the presence of the remaining Allegany Franciscan sisters is palpable in the ethos, the welcome all receive, the care and concern of the staff. Lay employees who are hired are informed by Sister Mary McNally, the Vice-President for Mission that if they are coming simply for a job, go elsewhere but if you are coming for the opportunity to participate in a ministry of healing, then they are in the right place.

I do not know this for sure but have been led to believe that one community at least working in one of our most financially challenged parish schools is working for no salary or compensation of any type, their support being paid by their province. I am embarrassed by that and will address it as soon as I get well. But that is emblematic of the generosity of religious women over the years as well as today.

The article today was somewhat motivated by recent announcements that the Holy See has ordered two “investigations” of religious life in the US. Sisters I have spoken to in this diocese are generally not worried about results of the investigations, as I think they should not be, or specifically the one which is studying religious life in the US today. All of the sisters are living and ministering within the boundaries of constitutions and rules of life approved by the Holy See. They realize that traditional communities who have retained community living in larger convents and which have retained some semblance of a distinctive “habit” are doing better at recruiting vocations than those which do not. While distinctive “charisms” such as teaching, nursing and health care, have given way to broader ministries, we have benefitted in this diocese for the diversity of ministries which they pursue. I suspect that end product of all these investigations will affirm the more traditional forms of religious life and so do the sisters but all will learn to live with whatever.

Anyway, the TIMES reporter did a nice job on the article today but he has only begun to uncover the jewel which is religious life and the presence of holy women (and men) in our five counties.



Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and currently President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has written a new book entitled The Difference God Makes. It will make its first appearance in the United States this Wednesday and I have already ordered a copy from one of the on-line booksellers. Cardinal George has assembled in the book a selection of his speeches, homilies and writings and because I have such respect for his intellect and theological insight I look forward to reading the book when it arrives.

The “mother” of all Catholic blogs, Whispers in the Loggia excerpted just enough the one section of the book to make me want to read the whole thing. In the section, the Cardinal writes about the two extremes in an ever more polarized church, the liberal Catholic “wing” and the strident, ardent right or conservative wing. The Cardinal is quoted as saying that liberal Catholicism is all but dead, a thing of the past and the strident right wing  is alive and poses a great challenge for the Church as it risks the formation of independent Churches (think in the extreme of the schismatic movement begun by Archbishop Lefevbre). So I have been thinking and ruminating about both.

Liberal Catholic movements have generally not lasted or succeeded. In my lifetime start-up movements like Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful, etc. have risen to challenge the Church (not always in unhealthy ways – VOTF started in Boston during the height of the clergy misconduct scandal to seek more accountability of bishops and other Church leaders). They make their point strongly, seldom  though occasionally go for the jugular, and then seem to pass into relative ecclesial anonymity. Basically the Church stands them off by ignoring them and the people in the pew remain steadfast in their faith. Remnants exist and I think these are healthy influences, The Church’s leadership tends to be centrist in most things, tolerant in some, and slow to embrace almost any new cause for reform, which I think is the right place to stand. As long as things don’t get vicious or personal,  we listen.

The extreme right can sometimes also go for the jugular and they are less likely to give up than the “liberal” wing. Even though the Holy Father used to be sheltered from their criticism, now they are just as likely to go after him. Bishops have long been their targets and while most of us understand it “comes with the territory”, it can still sting. When they don’t seem to be getting their way, there is a tendency now to “splinter” off. Particularly  neuralgic issues tend to be matters of liturgy and worship and pro-life.

Anyway, I look forward to reading the Cardinal’s full exploration of the subject when the book arrives. It is not my intention to start a competition with Oprah on our “book of the month club” but with this I have here recommended two: WHY GO TO CHURCH by Timothy Radcliffe, OP and now THE DIFFERENCE GOD MAKES by Cardinal Francis George, OMI.



Thursday, October 15th, 2009
Bishop-Elect Fernando Isern

Bishop-Elect Fernando Isern

Pope Benedict XVI today appointed Miami archdiocesan priest, Father Fernando Isern to the be next bishop of the 100,000 Catholic diocese of Pueblo in Colorado. What makes this particularly joyful for me personally is that Bishop-elect Isern is the only associate pastor I have had had the privilege of working with, which also makes him the “best” associate pastor I ever had. Father Fernando had already been at St. Mark’s parish in Davie when I was appointed pastor there on June 1, 1995. The large, growing population of both Anglos and Hispanics loved him and rightly so. He worked tirelessly for them all week long. We had an interesting beginning, the two of us. Three days before I was to begin my pastorate, he took me in a delirious state first to the doctor and then by EMT transport to Hollywood Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines. I was in the emergency room all day and remember little except for the priestly presence of Father Isern giving me the sacrament of the sick. Late that night I was diagnosed definitively with spinal meningitus and fourteen days in isolation followed with visits several times daily by my associate who was administering the parish until I could get out and begin my new pastorate. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, barely five full months later that the Holy Father’s representative in the U.S., the Apostolic Nuncio, called to tell me of  my appointment to St. Petersburg as bishop. Bishop-elect Isern saw firsthand the sadness that accompanied giving up my first and wonderful parish and moving on and the toll it took on myself and others and today that experience is now his as well.

He will make a great bishop. It is also a great day for the priests of the Archdiocese of Miami who had to endure way too much negative publicity about the priesthood in recent  months with the Albert Cutie matter and that of another priest who has now admitted that he fathered a child. Miami’s priests, like my own here in the diocese, consist of many exemplary and dedicated men living what is sometimes a very challenging life and to pick one more of their number for service in the order of bishop should make them feel very good.

Congratulations Bishop Fernando. I know how lucky the Church of Pueblo is to have you as their shepherd.



Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

The vote of Hillsborough County Commissioners yesterday, a reversal of their previous position, to disallow Catholic Charities an opportunity to serve the homeless comes as a disappointment to be sure. The Diocese offered Catholic Charities and the county as well as its civic jurisdictions the only parcel of land in the county we have for the purpose of temporary housing, land made available by the transfer of our former Good Shepherd parish to nearby Mary Help of Christians property. I almost fell out of my chair last night when Channel 13 reported that the Diocese owns thirty-two parcels of land in Hillsborough county.  True, but Sacred Heart Church in downtown sits on one, Christ the King on another, St. Lawrence on another and so on. Available land for use for a purpose like this – nada, nothing other than what was offered.

But I have said to Catholic Charities all along that we will go where we are wanted and needed if we can be helpful. Getting zoning approval for the use of the land was only one gauge of the project. Civic support and governmental cooperation would be required to open and maintain the project and if that was to be half as hard to obtain as zoning approval, Hillsborough Cares would be forever getting off the ground. So, I think we know the answer to the question, “Who Cares?” Four of the seven commissioners don’t – the homeless know that, and now thanks to the newspapers and media, the population of the county know it as well.

From the beginning, neither I nor any of those involved in the project have been critical of the East Lake residents. They are important stakeholders, and they had both a need and right to be heard. Adjustments were made in the site plan to meet their early objections but ultimately the NIMBY effect took place, “Not in my back yard.” The rhetoric reflected an understandable passion but your blood would curl if I shared with you some of the awful and evil things sent to me by them. We simply turned the other cheek. I kept reminding myself that some of the neighbors and co-religionists of the Lord I served accused him of “eating with tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes.” What would Jesus do? He would have kept on doing the same.

Pinellas Hope has been a success. Is it perfect? Certainly  not. Has it helped the homeless out of their desperate poverty and isolation – in many instances, yes. Has it helped the county and cities in dealing with the homeless challenge. Ask them? The Hillsborough County Commissioners did and they know the answer. The Mayor of Pinellas Park in which the shelter is located was initially opposed. After two years, he is now one of our best advocates. Commissioner Higgenbottom who changed his vote yesterday read off a litany of past charges against the residents – what he did not share was the amazingly law-abiding and strict-rule abiding of the residents of Pinellas Hope once they arrived.

The county made the NEW YORK TIMES today. Maybe that’s flattering to some. The ST. PETERSBURG TIMES editorial this morning and the very fair article by Sue Carlton in the same edition capture my thoughts. The Gospel I preach lost a battle yesterday but we do as commanded, “shake the dust off and move on.” If any other political jurisdiction like Pasco, Hernando and/or Citrus county would like our help and experience, call us. Somebody out there must care.